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Four Berkshire Women Celebrated as Unsung Heroines
10:51AM / Thursday, June 21, 2018
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Some 130 women were honored during the ceremony at the State House on Wednesday.


Sen. Adam Hinds welcomes Great Barrington's Unsung Heroine Gwendolyn VanSant and her husband, Sam VanSant, at the State House.
 
BOSTON – Four Berkshire County women were honored as members of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women's 2018 class of Unsung Heroines during a State House ceremony on Wednesday. 
 
Gwendolyn VanSant of Great Barrington, Sabrina Tan of Lee, Pauline Wheeler of Hinsdale, and Judy Grinnell of North Adams were among the 130 women from across that state were welcomed were welcomed by state officials. 
 
Wheeler was nominated by state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Grinnell, founder of the Hoosic River Revival, by state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams.
 
VanSant was nominated for this recognition by state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, because of her leadership in the Berkshires on matters of diversity, cultural competence and coalition building for justice and equity.
 
Tan, who owns Flavours of Malaysia in Pittsfield with her husband, Chin, dedicated supporters of the Elizabeth Freeman Center, which provides services to address domestic and sexual violence. She was nominated by state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.
 
As described by MCSW, the 2018 Unsung Heroines are women who don't make the news, but make a difference. They are mentors, volunteers and innovators who do what needs to be done without expectations of recognition or gratitude. These Unsung Heroines are women who use their time, talent and enthusiasm to enrich the lives of others and make a difference in their neighborhoods, cities and towns.
 
"Gwendolyn has done so much work to promote understanding and inclusion, to address racism, and bridge the divides that plague us to this day," said Hinds. "That's why it was an honor to shed more light on the important work she has dedicated herself to."
 
VanSant is the chief executive officer and co-founding director of Multicultural BRIDGE, a grassroots organization dedicated to catalyzing change and integration through promoting mutual respect and understanding among diverse groups. BRIDGE is a resource to local institutions and the Berkshire County community at large, and provides resources and training in collaboration, education, training, dialogue, fellowship and advocacy.    
 
Shas worked with corporations, schools, colleges and universities, law enforcement, hospitals, teaching and leadership institutes, and more.  In addition to designing cultural competence trainings, she is a frequent speaker and long-time activist deeply rooted in gender equity and positive psychology. Since 2012 Ms. VanSant has served as an appointed official on the Berkshire County Commission on the Status of Women.
 
Most recently VanSant was co-curator and co-designer of the Du Bois 150th birthday festival commissioned by the Town of Great Barrington.  In spring 2017, she spearheaded the countywide campaign and coalition "Not in the Berkshires" and, in partnership, stewarded the crafting and passing of her town's Trust Policy. In 2016, she became the founding director of equity and inclusion at Bard College at Simon's Rock, her alma mater. She also was recognized as a Berkshire Trendsetter finalist and was named one of her county's most dedicated and creative social entrepreneurs by Berkshire Magazine. VanSant is on the board of UU Mass Action Network and is a reactivation and annual member of the Berkshire County Branch of the NAACP.
 
"It is an honor to be to be recognized among a tribe of women dedicated to creating a positive social impact and to be endorsed by Senator Hinds and the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women," said VanSant. "I am thankful to the Senator and his staff for standing on the side of justice and equity in their policy work. We came to the State House in all of our diversity and passion to be lifted up together in this 15th cohort. As immigrant children were being separated from their families today, we celebrated Unsung Heroines and peaceful demonstrations for human rights shut down Beacon Street and filled the halls of Our People's House. Together, we are standing for justice, and we will continue to do so. Maya Angelou said, 'If you don't like something, change it.' We must remind ourselves of her words now more than ever."
 
Tan's small, family-owned restaurant caters to open-minded food-loving patrons. Born and raised in Maylasia, Sabrina and her husband have fully given of themselves in their Berkshire community. Each year, they host a International Women's Day fundraising dinner for the Center and enthusiastically play an outsized role in their annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event. Responding to the region's increased food insecurity, Tan has utilized her cooking talents and huge heart and makes large pots of soup, sponsored by local individuals, that are delivered to local soup kitchens.
 
Tan will be recognized by Farley-Bouvier and Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer at the Pittsfield City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 26. A reception for her family and friends will follow.
 
"We are so fortunate to have Sabrina in our community. She is the very definition of a leader. When she sees a problem, Sabrina immediately rolls up her sleeves and gets to work," Farley-Bouvier said. "From feeding the hungry to protecting victims of Domestic Violence, Sabrina is there."
 
Pignatelli added that "while there are those who dedicate their time to community service for credit or recognition, I think we can all agree that Sabrina Tan is not one of those people. To say the Berkshires is lucky to have Sabrina in our community is an understatement. From the role Flavours of Malaysia plays as a community conscious place of business, to the countless charity fundraisers and events Sabrina continues to dedicate her time to, we are indebted to her selfless service. Women not only in the Berkshires, but throughout the commonwealth should be inspired by Sabrina's compassion and drive to make this world a better place for all."
 
The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women is an independent state agency that was legislatively created in 1998 to advance women of the Commonwealth to full equality in all areas of life and to promote their rights and opportunities.
 
Wednesday's ceremony was emceed by commission Chair Margot Parrot, who acknowledged each of the 2018 Unsung Heroines, and included remarks from Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo, Senate President Harriette L. Chandler and state Rep. Colleen M. Garry, co-chair of the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators.
 
Updated at 4:33 p.m. to recognize four women from Berkshire County were nominated. 
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